What is happening in Libya right now? What happened to the ‘military success’ celebrated by the West after Gaddafi’s fall in 2011? Can we now call Libya as a “failed state’? And is it now escalating into a civil war?

By Annette Stubkjær

Dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi’s fall in 2011 was internationally hailed as a success for the Libyan people and a victory for democracy. But increasing fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi between the Muslim Brotherhood supported by its Islamist allies and forces from the NFA (National Force Alliance) is showing signs of a country on the road to chaos. Several experts described the military situation in Libya as two factions in the west and east of the country, however, with several interlinked points. Libya since Gaddafi’s fall unsuccessfully tried to build a legitimate state with a democratic structure after more than 42 years of harsh dictatorship. But with a high turnover of ministers and lack of authority and respect from the people, it has proved to be a great challange for Libya to build a functioning state.

Political Crisis

The violent struggles, happening most notably during the summer, has been seen as a battle between two sides; on the one hand the Islamists, on the other anti-Islamists. Surely the reality is more complex. The rising violence in Libya covers a deeper political struggle between local groups on the right to trade, money and power in the country. When the international community went into battle against Gaddafi and his forces, we saw the many local militias stand together in the fight against Gaddafi, as they all fought for the same cause. But today, these groups have stepped up their military struggles for political power in the country, which has resulted in chaos. The people of Tripoli in particular suffer from the violent struggle, fires, shellings, lack of electricity and water which has become a part of everyday life. Ever since the General National Congress (GNC) was established in 2012, the Islamist forces on the one hand and anti-Islamist forces on the other struggled to get full power over the government. The Islamist forces was in May 2013 successfully by threatening GNC to implement ‘the Political Isolation Law’ which prohibits NFA forces to meet in public. This resulted in the anti-Islamist members of GNC boycotting the political process, which has created an even deeper political crisis in the country. This leads to a situation in Libya, where politicians and other government organisations have no respect or authority within the population, and the political transformation that we hoped would happen in 2011, has fallen apart. The increase in violent fighting in the country has created uncertainty and fear among the population, which calls for the state to give them stability and security in the country.

Mediation and National Dialogue is Needed

The government has through countless attempts trying to create a dialogue between the militias, which have failed due to the lack of respect for law and national security of the country. Tripoli thus wanted help and support from the international community. Unfortunately, the only thing we’ve seen from the international community so far is a quick evacuation of diplomats and the closure of embassies.

Many debaters and academic experts on Libyan relations underlines that Libya can not yet be called a fragile state, and emphasize that peace in the country still is a possibility. However, it does not appear that a military solution is possible because none of the militias have the means to win. There is therefore a need for a non-violent solution through mediation and transparent dialogue in order for inaugurating a political process. Jason Pack, head of www.libya-analysis.com, says in an interview on Aljazeera, that mediation is necessary to create a comprehensive plan for the future of Libya, and that right now there is a need for international mediators in order for such a process to be managed. However, it is important to stress that these international mediators must be accepted and respected by both parties if not to end in failure. But first and foremost, security must be established in the country including a ceasefire between militias. Here the international community can help by sending UN peacekeeping forces to the country in order to protect civilians and help to build stable public institutions.

Uncertain Future

It is very difficult to know what will happen in Libya in the future. Will a civil war break out? Can international peacekeeping forces help the country, or will it create even more discord? Is there willingness and opportunity to start a national dialogue among the warring groups, thus initiating a new attempt at a political process in the country? Libya is just like any other international and national conflict complex, and it is therefore important to create an understanding of the local dynamics in order to work towards a solution of the conflict.

Annette Stubkjær is a board member of the Council for International Conflict Resolution, RIKO